Today, I joined my friends Moreno and Manuelle for another trek in the woods, this time in search of truffles. A truffle is the fruit of a subterranean fungus and is a species of the genus known as “tuber.” Many of the species are highly prized for gourmet cooking, especially those found in Italy and France. Truffles are a type of fungi that often develop around the roots of trees, but they are not associated with, or a part of, the tree.
We met Manuelle, and his two dogs, high up in the Sibillini Mountains to begin our hunt for truffles. Before we began, I was told that this was not prime truffle season, in fact the truffles we will find today would be only the remains from the winter season or the small beginning growth for the coming fall season. But, no worries, it was a beautiful day for a walk.
I grew up hunting quail in Florida. Hunting quail requires trained dogs to find the covey of birds, point out the birds and hold until the hunter flushes the covey into the air where they can be shot (or missed). The little truffle hunting dogs reminded me so much of the hunting style of my bird dogs. They would sniff the ground, obviously happy to be out and hunting, and when they found something of interest, they would point it out to the hunter by briskly wagging their tails and digging at the spot on the ground.
Soon, the dogs were covering all the territory to the left and right of our direction of travel. They responded very well to the hunter’s verbal commands. After about ten minutes, one dog showed signs of finding a truffle. Encouraged to dig by the hunter, she honed in and unearthed a developing truffle. It was at this point that the hunter pulled the dog off and carefully plucked the small tuber from the moist soil. The pungent biancino (little white) truffle was about the size of my little fingernail and when crushed, immediately produced the characteristic earthy and ripe smell only known to truffles.
We uncovered six developing truffles in about thirty minutes, then packed up the dogs a struck off for my next adventure.